Interview with Donnette Alfelt about her changed view on Women in the Ministry 
Friday, December 5, 2014
New Church Perspective in Donnette Alfelt, General Church policy, gender roles, ordination, women in the ministry, women priests

As the title suggests, this week we have an interview from Donnette Alfelt about her understanding of the issue of women in ministry. As a life long church participant her views on the matter have changed over the years, but most dramatically in the last year. -Editor

Question - Did you grow up in the church?

Answer – Yes. I was born in Bryn Athyn and have lived there for most of my 85 years of life. I attended New Church schools through two years of college. I moved away from Bryn Athyn in my twenties but returned when I got married.

Question - I understand that until recently you were against women being ordained as New Church ministers. Can you tell me about that?

Answer - I grew up in a culture where it was a given that ministers were men. I accepted this. I also grew up with a great appreciation and respect for the beauty of the differences and complementary natures of the masculine and feminine. I was turned off by some of the hostile actions of the women's liberation movement that seemed to be fighting to prove women were just like, just as good, even better than men. They seemed to want to replace or compete with rather than cooperate with men. In the process there was a lot of male bashing that was painful to me. I was disturbed by many of those fighting for women’s rights who were aggressive, angry and unfeminine. A very small example - angry demands that women reporters should be allowed in men’s locker rooms after sports events. This and some other demands struck me as childish and eroded my sympathy for needed change. Some early New Church women advocates for WIM also came across as angry and combative. Perhaps they felt this was the only way to be heard, but it sounded too much like other women-libbers, and turned me off rather than awakening or inspiring me. Because the world seemed to be trying to blur or eliminate differences, I felt the church needed to be a beacon protecting the beauty of the complementary differences. I saw women becoming ministers as a threat to the preservation of this ideal.

Question - Can you tell me what changed your mind?

Answer - My change of heart came rather suddenly about a year ago. There of course had been ongoing debate for some time, and even though I admired some of those who spoke up for WIM, I kept my distance. The shift for me began when I decided to look at myself to explore how much my position was based on my judgment of others (angry women from the past) and the culture of my growing up. I didn’t talk about these new thoughts to family and friends who were for WIM. I did not want to be persuaded by them. I wanted to work it out for myself first. I am grateful that in prior brief conversations with them on the subject they were always patient and non-aggressive. We agreed to disagree.

Of course I am not a doctrinal scholar, so I began to read both sides of the debate in New Church Life and on Facebook. In my reading I began to notice that the same teachings were often used to support both sides of the debate. I found nothing that presented clear indisputable answers. I slowly felt as if I were waking up to the obvious. I began to think about the days when there were no women on any church boards. I think most people in the church would now agree that including women on boards was a good move. Having them join the male clergy it seemed might be the next logical step. It suddenly disturbed me to think about the annual ministers meeting where only men deliberated without the balance of feminine perspective. Asking for input from women (part of the laity) is very different from having them involved in discussion or study. The Lord needs all of us to work for Him and has provided this beautiful balance of male and female to serve Him. Why not as male and female ministers?

It is absolutely crucial that we keep studying doctrine. There is so much the Lord wants us to understand and share with others. I appreciate the men who have been devoted to this. I do understand that we must also keep searching for application. We are taught that truth apart from good or wisdom apart from love are nothing at all. The joining of love and wisdom, good and truth, male and female is what makes the world go around. Wouldn’t women in the mix of church leadership provide this essential balance?

Question - How do you understand the role of a New Church minister?

Answer - “To teach the truth and lead to the good of life” is, I believe, a minister’s job description. They might be sent to a society with a school where they will be expected to teach. They would also be expected to preach, comfort the dying, counsel the troubled, raise money, provide marriage guidance, baptize babies and the ever present ”do something for the young people.” Though teaching and leading can be part of all of these duties, no one can be expected to be experts in all of them. There is great variety in expectations and also in the strengths of male ministers as there would be with women.

My stance a year or two ago was that perhaps when the church was larger, men would be able to specialize in their training. Not every minister is cut out to be or wants to serve as a pastor. We do have ministers who have made a choice to become teachers or translators. Perhaps they have different requirements or training than the potential pastor. I don’t know. However, most are ordained and then expected to serve and take care of everything. I thought that perhaps in the future there would be opportunities for all theologs to specialize. I thought this might also open up opportunities for women to attend the Theological School to become New Church chaplains or counselors or leaders etc. I was still anxious about the preservation of the feminine qualities. It is clear they could do a better job if schooled from doctrine in professions that helped people - taught people - led people out of their struggles to the “good of life.” I resisted the idea of them being ordained as ministers for reasons stated earlier.

Question - In some ways, all women (all people) “minister” to others. Any thoughts on this?

Answer - Of course all mothers and teachers try to teach the truth and lead to the good of life in these roles. There are also numerous examples of women “ministering” from church doctrine - mostly as volunteers. I am a Stephen Minister and most of us are female. This strikes me as evidence that the call of for this kind of ministering is stronger with women than with men. For women who go into ministering professions, wouldn’t it help the world more if their training included the precious insight of the Second Coming? I don't know how many of the women who have graduated from the MARS program did so looking toward careers. I do believe the curriculum of the theological school will need to be changed somewhat if it includes women. The fact that they have already made changes that include counseling and experiential training almost seems to be leading up to a male and female student body.

Question - Do you think this ongoing debate is damaging the church?

Answer - It is of course a threat to the church organization. There are strong feelings at work here. However, it is as true for any organization as it is for each individual, that upsets are painful but present opportunities for growth. They force us to reflect and evaluate our beliefs. Chaotic as it might feel, I think it is good for us. I am certain that the organization is not “The Church,” and “The Church” will survive.

Question - Are there any particular teachings you want to comment on?

Answer - I have read a lot of what other people have found in the Writings on this topic and I sometimes interpret their selected teachings differently from what the writer intended. No two people have ever have read the same book, nor has any one person read the same book twice. We bring who we are, what we love and where we want to go to our reading. I’m sure over the years it is likely I have read or heard AC 5365 before. As I read it today, it says that women should be ministers. It most certainly never said that to me before.

In the early stages of man’s regeneration, truth is multiplied, but not good; and as truth has then no good with which to be conjoined, it is drawn in and stored up in the interiors of the natural mind, that it may be called forth thence according to the increasing of good. In this state truth is in need of good, and moreover conjunction of truth with good takes place according to the inflow of good into the natural; but still no fruitfulness is effected by this conjunction. But when man has been regenerated, then good increases; and as it increases it is in need of truth, and also procures truth for itself with which it may be conjoined, and thereupon there is conjunction of good with truth. When this takes place, truth is made fruitful from good, and good from truth. (AC 5365)

It seems like in the early stages of the church (led by the masculine) truth has been multiplied more than good. I don't mean this as judgmental, but as a natural development. After learning the truth, there is a need of good. Only recently has the church promoted good works of charity as part of what the church is and does. Only recently have women been in positions in the church to promote these efforts. Only recently has the theological school included counseling and experiential learning. There seems to be a new hunger to not only learn but to find ways to use truth. “But still no fruitfulness is effected...[but as the church progresses or as we regenerate the good is in need of truth]...truth is made fruitful from good and good from truth.” I think that what applies to individuals also applies to organizations.

Question – Do you find that your new position is surprising to others in your age group?

Answer - Yes. It is interesting when this topic comes up with people of my generation. It is evident in peoples' remarks that there is the assumption that we are all opposed to women in the ministry. Sometimes I respond and make my feelings known and sometimes I let it go.

Question - What do you think about the future?

Answer - One thing I am sure of is that when we awake in the next life we will not be judged by what church we attended or what gender our minister was. We will be judged on our efforts to follow the Lord and how we treated one another. My present hope is that the promised plan to look for ways to involve women more may eventually lead to a new consideration of their ordination.

Donnette Alfelt

Donnette is the wife of Lennart Alfelt who is now in the spiritual world. They have 5 children, one of them also in the next world. The Writings have always been precious to her and for many years she has looked for ways to make their teachings more recognizable as practical tools to deal with common life challenges. She did this as a high school teacher and in writing on other issues. Her writing includes a book for widows and widowers called "Comfort and Hope". Though she has always loved ministering, and presently serves as a Stephen Minister, until very recently the idea of women in the ministry never interested her.
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